This season of harvest, take a page from your ancestors and craft a little old-fashioned cornucopia magic. Because if “gratitude attitude” is the key to prosperity nothing says it better than the ole’ horn of plenty.
Spilling with fruits, grains, gourds and flowers, this beloved emblem of earthly abundance, pleasure, healing and good fortune has been presiding over harvest festivals, feasts, and revelry – since time immemorial. So this autumn equinox, why not call on the harvest goddesses of old and craft up a magical cornucopia of your own?
Today cornucopias still adorn Thanksgiving tables, but we’ve forgotten that for our ancestors it was a revered ritual object symbolizing the unlimited procreative powers of mother nature. So, in answer, I’ve developed my own autumn harvest ritual – and I invite you to join in! And all you need is a couple of hours to go outside and gather a basket filled with the abundance of herbs, berries, roots, and seeds on offer in our landscapes right now. This is your ceremonial “cornucopia” basket!
But before we go further, a little magical backstory will help fill in the picture. Associated with the fertility and harvest goddesses across the ancient world who brought forth growth and plant life, the cornucopia’s origins are shrouded in mystery.
Some believe it first begins to appear in the upper Palaeolithic and Neolithic when animal horns were placed on stone altars to evoke invoke the blessings of the bountiful all giving mother, the earth. In ancient Egypt, India, and the Middle East it was the great goddess in her cow incarnation, who nourished the world through her horns of plenty. Some historians theorize horns were used in our oldest harvest rituals to consecrate or bless plants or objects placed within or to receive prayers that were chanted or spoken into it.
In the ancient world, cornucopia were held high by harvest goddesses such Ceres, Demeter, Abundantia, and Flora, as well as goddesses of prosperity and good luck like Fortuna or Tyche. These goddesses were all honored with offerings of food at times of harvest – and of course, there was a lot of accompanying feasting, games, and revelry.
Countless carvings, votives, statues, and shrines dated between the 1st to 7th century, also depict the Mothers or Matrones of ancient Gaul (divinities associated with rivers, mountains, springs, and trees) holding cornucopias filled with fruits and grains. During harvest, women left offerings at these shrines, to ensure their blessings. Scholars generally agree this “Cult of the Mothers” was a pagan tribute to the female divinity in nature.
The horn was also associated with medieval legends of the Holy Grail, the mystical chalice that returned green to the wasteland and was the source of life itself. In Norse mythology, the horn was carried by goddess Idun, “The Glorious Maiden Who Knows the Age-Cure of the Aesir’ who dispensed the elixir of immortality and the eternal regeneration of youth.
Today despite its once exalted spiritual status, the cornucopia has become practically mundane. We may trot it out as a pretty autumn decoration but its mystical significance and magical power are barely remembered, never mind utilized.
So, in answer, on Autumn Equinox, the day the celestial clock ticks from summer into the official arrival of fall( known to contemporary pagans as Mabon, Harvest Home, the Feast of the Ingathering and Witch’s Thanksgiving) take a ceremonial basket out to the garden, fields, and woodlands.
Fill it with whatever you find, nettle, milk thistle, wild mustard, lambs-quarters, fennel, sheep sorrel, and wild coastal mugwort seeds, crabapples, rosehips, rowan, arbutus and hawthorn berries, spicy nasturtium blossoms, licorice fern, burdock and dandelion roots.
This will yield a literal cornucopia of tasty, nutrient-rich seed salts, fennel seed crackers, ketchup, infused honey, vitalizing vinegar, nourishing tonics, medicinal tinctures, warming liqueurs and an autumn vermouth to fortify us in the coming winter. (Watch for my follow-up post that will guide you through the must-have autumn plants to harvest, as well as a bevy of accompanying recipes.)
But before you get cooking, take your basket and arrange it into a cornucopia of sorts – and just admire it! Take a moment to symbolically offer it to the great harvest goddesses and remember our foremothers of old, whose ritual acts of celebration and “thanksgiving” created a magic to bless themselves and the land. And then give thanks for this glorious abundance!
For me, the best thing about my autumn equinox ritual is this. When the geese fly overhead and the landscape shimmers with the reds and yellows of dying foliage, my basket fills me with “gratitude attitude” for the never-ending ability of the earth to provide. And in the darkening days of encroaching winter, it’s a good faith to have.
May you be blessed with prosperity and abundance this season of harvest!